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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 46 New Delhi November 3, 2018

Selected articles - from Early Recollections to Some Editorials, Commentaries

Saturday 3 November 2018, by Nikhil Chakravartty

After N.C.’s demise on June 27, 1998 three pieces were recovered from his notes as evidence that he had started writing his autobiography. Since November 3 this year happens to be his 105th birth anniversary, we are carrying the following piece (written on March 5, 1990) on his birth and childhood.

My Earliest Recollections

What’s the earliest memory I have about myself? I have tried to look back to catch a glimpse of what could possibly be the earliest scene I can remember about my life.

I don’t remember anything about my birth and infancy, about the place where I was born. That was in a winter morning in November 1913 at a town in Assam called Silchar where my mother’s uncle was a prison doctor. My mother told me later that I was born early morning at about 5. I don’t know who were all there to receive me into the world, but I was told later that the arrival was smooth, without a hitch. My complexion was slightly dark—certainly darker than my mother’s and my father’s both of whom were fair. So I was called ‘Kanu’—the pet name of Krishna. One of my uncles was an admirer of a great Bengal scholar of those days and after him, I was named ‘Nikhil Nath’. That was perhaps all that I could gather about my first hours in this world.

My mother used to say that as a baby, I used to be quite a problem at night as I could cry for milk at the middle of the night and my full-throated angry howl would wake up the neighbours. And a relation who was rather obsequious to the Raj, would remark that it was good we were not living in sahib-para—the locality of the sahibs—as they would not tolerate this nightly howl by the Bengali baby. My mother used to recall another incident about my full-throated bellowing. The family had gone to the Tagore mansion at Jorasanko to watch Rabindranath’s Valmiki Pratibha in which the poet himself took part. As soon as the curtain was up and the bearded old man appeared on the stage, I roared sitting on the lap of my mother who had to rush out of the hall and had difficulty getting back home all by herself carrying the baby, as my father and my aunt stayed behind as they were ardent votaries of Tagore.

Otherwise I was a healthy normal baby with a large head and bristling hair. No problem about food as I was and have continued to be fond of milk. Every afternoon, I used to have long outings in the pram with Jagabhai who was the all-purpose factotum in our cosy little home.

My earliest recollections centre round the small house at Amherst Street in Central Calcutta. You had to reach it from the main road by a winding brick-laid lane through which no carriage could pass, only rickshaws could enter. The room in front was my father’s study-cum-sitting room. Behind it was a narrow open space and you reached the two dingy rooms and a narrow verandah which served as the dining place with small wooden stools and the meal laid out on the floor. By the staircase was the tiny little kitchen where my mother prepared all our meals. Upstairs there were two rooms, one with my father’s bed and the other belonged to my mother, where my aunts whenever they would come could park themselves. Any other guest would be sleeping in my father’s study downstairs. Next to us was the playing field of St. Paul’s College, where students would be playing. One would notice a dark-skinned young man would be playing with the boys as if he was one of them. Years later, he turned out to be my teacher in Presidency College—Kuruvilla Zachariah, a shy person with big eyes and ears, a bachelor at that time who became a real guru to me.

It was war-time (1914-1918) when I was growing up to be a boy. Khaki uniforms were popular, with a Union Jack stitched on the shoulder, and I remember I got a boy howitzer. A nursery book of alphabets all dealing with the great war that the British were supposed to be winning—D stood for Dreadnought, J for Jellico, U for U-boat, Z for Zeppelin etc.

Day One in Calcutta

The following report by Nikhil Chakravartty, the Calcutta correspondent of People’s Age (published from Bombay), appeared in the weekly’s August 24, 1947 issue (it was wired from Calcutta on August 17, 1947) under the following headlines: ‘End of a Nightmare and Birth of New Dawn!’; ‘Calcutta Transformed by Spirit Of Independence’; ‘Hindus, Muslims Hug Each Other In Wild Joy—Tears Roll Down Where Blood Once Soaked The Streets’.

Frenzy has overtaken Calcutta. It is a frenzy which no city in India has ever felt through the long years of thraldom under the British.

When the clock struck midnight and Union Jacks were hauled down on August 15, 1947, the city shook to her very foundations for a mad frenzy overtook her 40 lakh citizens. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

I have racked my brains for hours; I have looked up all despatches in the Press; but still I find no adequate words to communicate the unforgettable experience that has overwhelmed me in the last three days. It is like a sudden bursting of a mighty dam: you hear a deafening roar of water sweeping away everything in the flood. It comes with a crushing suddenness and strikes with the strength of a thousand giants.

That is how all of us in Calcutta have felt in the last few days—all of us, old or young, man or woman, Hindu or Muslim, rich or poor. In this mighty sweep of the flood none was spared. And the floods carried off a lot of dirt and stigma of our slavery.

Calcutta is Reborn

One hundred and ninety years ago, it was from Calcutta that Clive set out of conquer this land of ours and it was this city which was the seat of all his vile intrigues that divided our ranks and brought about our defeat. But today in the sweeping torrent of freedom all that has been wiped away, and once again this beloved city of ours stands out clean and full of radiance with the glow of lasting brotherhood.

Everybody felt nervous about August 15. Weeks ahead authorities were on tenterhooks; more police and military were being posted to ensure peace. Ministers would not permit meetings in the open to celebrate the transfer of power, afraid that the goondas might create trouble. East Bengal Hindus were nervous that one little spark in Calcutta might throw the entire province into the flames of a civil war; Muslims were panicky that they might be finished off in Calcutta and many had left the city.

Gandhiji had already moved his camp to one of the most affected areas—Belliaghata—and cancelling his East Bengal trip, had decided to spend a few days here with Suhrawardy. But even he was disturbed by rowdy goondas, backed by communal groups, accusing him of being an enemy of Hindus. News from the Punjab was bad. On the whole an uncanny fear gripped everybody and the day of independence seemed like a deadline for disturbances.

But how wrong were our calculations! With all our pretensions of knowing our people, with all the prophecies and warnings, bans and precautions, no one really knew how the people—common men and women among both Hindus and Muslims—would come forward to celebrate August 15. It was this unknown factor, which in every turn of history is the determining factor, that has made all the difference in our calculations and the actual happenings on that day.

People’s preparations for the celebrations of the day went on briskly, though imperceptibly. The demand for Tri-colours knew no bounds; whatever be the material, whatever the make, every flag was literally sold out. Even the poorest of the poor, coolie, scavenger or rickshaw-puller, bought the Jhanda. In paras and mohallas boys and girls were getting ready practising drills or formations, organising Prabhat Pheris. Party differences, personal bickerings, etc. were forgotten.

Discordant voices there were, but they did not matter. Mahasabha first raised the slogan of black flags, but then piped down and declared non-participation. But all the prestige of Shyamaprosad could not make any impression on the very people whom he had swayed during the Partition campaign.

Forward Bloc and Tagorites also opposed the celebration on the ground that real freedom was yet to be won. But despite the fact that thousands of Bengali homes paid homage to Netaji that day hardly a handful abstained from participation. Every school, factory, office, every home—be it a mansion or a bustee—awaited the great day with hearts full of jubilation.

As the zero hour approached, the city put on a changed appearance. On the streets, people were busy putting up flags and decorating frontage. Gates were set up at important crossings, bearing names of our past titans like Ashoka or our martyrs in the freedom movement. The atmosphere was tense; should there be a new round of stabbings or shootings among brothers, or should there be return to peace and normalcy?

All Barriers Broken

The first spontaneous initiative for fraterni-sation came from Muslim bustees and was immediately responded to by Hindu bustees. It was Calcutta’s poor toilers, especially Muslims, who opened the floodgate, and none could have dreamt of what actually took place.

Muslim boys clambered up at Chowringhee and shouted, “Hindu-Muslim ek ho” and exhorted the driver to take them to Bhowanipore. But the driver would not risk that and so they came up to the border only.

But then all of a sudden in the very storm-centres of most gruesome rioting of the past year—Raja Bazar, Sealdah, Kalabagan, Colootolah, Burra Bazar—Muslims and Hindus ran across the frontiers and hugged each other in wild joy. Tears rolled down where once blood had soaked the pavements. “Jai Hind”, “Vande Mataram”, “Allah-ho-Akbar” and above all renting the sky “Hindu-Muslim ek ho”.

Curfews were ignored; men rushed out on the streets, danced, clasped and lifted each other up. It was all like a sudden end of a nightmare, the birth of a glorious dawn.

As midnight approached, crowds clustered round every radio set and Jawaharlal’s ringing words sent a thrill round every audience, “Appointed day has come—the day appointed by destiny..”

With the stroke of midnight, conch-shells blew in thousands, conch-shells blown by our mothers and sisters from the innermost corners of our homes—for the call of freedom has reached every nook and corner. And with the conch-shells were heard the crack of rifles and bursting of bombs and crackers. The very arms that were stored so long to kill off brothers were being used to herald the coming of freedom.

A torchlight procession started in North Calcutta. Tram workers, in all spontaneity, brought out a couple of trams crowded with Hindus to the Nakhoda mosque and were feted by Muslims with food and drink. In Burra Bazar, Muslims were treated the same way and all embraced one another. Hardly anybody slept that night—the night choked with passionate emotions welling up in so many ways.

As the morning came the city was already full of excitment and pavements were thronged with people. Prabhat Pheris came out singing songs of the national struggle. Boys and girls marched through the streets with bands and bugles—bright and smart, free citizens of tomorrow.

Flag salutations in every park, in every school and office. Buses plied free, giving joy rides to thousands. Trams announced that all their returns would be sent for relief. And they ran till late at night along all mixed routes which were closed for the past year.

At the Government House, our own Government was to unfurl the Tricolour, but invitees were confined to Burra Sahibs and officials, the rich and elite, Ministers and Legislators. They came in big cars, many with their wives dressed in all their fashionable clothes.

Government House—People’s Property

Common people, those that have made freedom possible, they too came in thousands, but they were kept outside, beyond the huge iron gates. Why must this be so? Why must this occasion be celebrated in the way the White Sahibs have done so long?

I watched that crowd growing restless every minute and found among them the very faces that you come across in the streets every day or at the market or in your own home: babu, coolie, student, Professor, young girl and shy wife—all jostling with each other, impatient at being kept out. Sikh, Muslim, Bhayya and Bhadralok clamoured for the gates to be opened and when that was not done, they themselves burst into the spacious grounds and ran up towards the Governor’s stately mansion.

The burst into the rooms much to the annoyance of the officials and perhaps also of the marble busts of many of the White rulers that have never been disturbed in their majesty.

For hours they thronged there, thousands over thousands of them, shoving out many of the ICS bosses. But it would be a slander to say that they were unruly. How little did they touch or damage? Had they been unruly, as somebody had reported to Gandhiji, the whole place would have been a wreck in no time.

They went there for they felt that it was one of their own leaders who had been installed as their Governor. And when the annoyed officials ran up to Rajaji to complain to him about the crowd swarming into the rooms, C.R., it is reported, replied: “But what can I do? It is their own property. How can I prevent them from seizing it?”

The sense of triumph, of pride that we have come to our own could be seen in the faces that entered the portals of the Government House. It is symptomatic of August 15 no doubt. For though there were restrictions and curtailments to real freedom in the elaborate plans the Dominion Status, the people—the common humanity that teems our land—have taken this day to mean that that have won and no amount of restrictions will bar the way, just as no policeman could stop the surging crowd that broke into the Government House.

Outside, all over the city, houses seemed to have emptied out into the streets, lorries came in hundreds, each packed precariously beyond capacity; lorries packed with Hindus and Muslims, men and women. Streets were blocked and the people themselves volunteered to control traffic.

Rakhi Bandhan Again

Lorry-loads of Muslim National Guards crammed with Gandhi-capped young Hindu boys shouted themselves hoarse “Jai Hind”, “Hindu-Muslim ek ho”.

Somebody in Bhowanipore waved a League flag under a Tri-colour. What a sight and what a suspense. But the days of hate were over and all shouted together, “Hindu-Muslim ek ho!”

A batch of Hindu ladies went to Park Circus to participate in the flag hoisting. They tied rakhi (strings of brotherly solidarity made famous during Swadeshi days) round the wrists of Muslim National Guards. And the Muslim boys said, “May we be worthy brothers!”

Hindu families, quiet and timid Bhadralok families, came in hundreds to visit Park Circus with their wives and children in tikka gharries piled by Muslims. Muslims, well-to-do and poor, visited Burra Bazar, and Ballygunge in endless streams. And this was going on all these three days.

They are all going to paras or mohallas they had to leave or where they had lost their near and dear ones. Today there is no area more attractive and more crowded than the very spots where the worst butcheries had taken place. As if to expiate for the sins of the last one year, Hindus and Muslims of Calcutta vied with each other to consecrate their city with a new creed of mighty brotherhood.

On the evening of August 16, one year back, I sent you a despatch which could describe but inadequately the mad lust for fratricidal blood that had overtaken Calcutta that day. To mark the anniversary of that day I visited the crowded parts of Hindu Burra Bazar and the Muslim Colootola where in this one year hardly anyone passed alive when spotted by the opposite community. But this evening Muslims were the guests of honour at Burra Bazar and Hindus, as they visited Colootola, were drenched with rose-water and attar and greeted with lusty cheers of “Jai Hind”.

On the very evening, at Park Circus, was held a huge meeting of Hindus and Muslims. Suhrawardy, J.C. Gupta, MLA, and Bhowani Sen spoke. It was here that Suhrawardy asked the Muslims to go and implore the evicted Hindus to come back to Park Circus.

At Belliaghata, Gandhiji’s presence itself has brought back hundreds of Muslim families who had to leave in terror of their lives only a few weeks back. And Gandhiji’s prayer meetings are attended by an ever increasing concourse of Hindus and Muslims—themselves living symbols of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Reports from Bengal districts also prove that this remarkable upsurge of solidarity was not confined to Calcutta alone. In Dacca, despite panic, Hindus and Muslims jointly participated in the celebration of Pakistan, and Muslim leaders themselves intervened in one case where the Congress flag was lowered, and the flag was raised again.

Everywhere Hindus showed response by honouring the Pakistan flag. Joint Hindu-Muslim demonstrations were the marked features of the occasion.

Reports from Comilla, Kusthia, Dinajpore, Krishnanagore, Munshinganj, Malda and Jessore, all show that August 15 had passed off in peace and amity. Only local fracas were reported from Kanchrapara, but the great and good tidings from Calcutta eased the situation there.

In this mighty flood of freedom and brother-hood there is yet the sense of suspense, for it came with such an incredible suddenness and magnitude that many think it is too good to last long. It is like holding a precious glass dome in your hands while you are in suspense that it might fall and break at any moment.

Spontaneous assertion of people’s will for freedom and brotherly solidarity needs to be harnessed in lasting forms and that is where our leaders will be tested in the coming weeks.

Whatever happens, August 15 will be cherished for Calcutta’s grand celebration on the eve of the end of the dark night of slavery and the dawn of freedom. Calcutta yesterday was the symbol of our servitude and fratricidal hate. Calcutta today is the beacon-light for free India, asserting that freedom once resurrected can never be curbed or destroyed, for all our millions of Hindus and Muslims together are ready to stand together as its proud sentinels.

(People’s Age, August 24, 1947)

This following is one of the best exposés of N.C. as a reporter and it was carried in the India Press Agency feature news service N.C. had founded with another outstanding Communist journalist, David Cohen (who thereafter left the Communist Party on the issue of Jewish persecution in the Soviet Union), in 1957. This report resulted in M.O. Mathai’s resignation from the post of the PM’s Special Assistant following a furore in Parliament in 1959.

The Story of a Gadfly

(All about the PM’s P.A. and the Trust for his Mother)

New Delhi, January3—A question is very often heard being asked now-a-days in the Capital: Does the Prime Minister really know all that is going on under the aegies of his Govern-ment? Honest but despairing Congressmen prefer to console themselves with the answer that obviously the Prime Minister does not.

But a question that has been coming up very rapidly in the last few months—and which promises to burst into a first-class sensation any day, whether in the Press or in Parliament—concerns the doings, or rather the misdoings, of a prominent member of his own staff. Although many outside New Delhi may not even have heard his name, Sri M.O. Mathai, the PM’s Special Assistant, has, in the last few years, buit himself up as a key man in high politics.

Sri Mathai has an extraordinary background. Before the last war, he was drawing a paltry wage being engaged as a typist by Sri C.P. Mathew, former MP. Then came a period when Mathai was employed in one of the American Government outfits functioning in this country during the war. His friendship with American circles has continued since those days, some-times becoming far too conspicuous.

During the crucial negotiations preceding the transfer of power in 1947, Sri Mathai got into Pandit Nehru’s staff as a steno-typist. Gradually he rose to become the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister drawing a monthly salary of about Rs 1,800 a month.

About four years ago, he decided to set up a Trust in memory of his mother, called the Chechemma Memorial Trust. It started with a capital of about Rs three lakhs—by itself rather a considerable sum for Mathai to collect—and besides himself, he selected two other trustees, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Smt Padmaja Naidu, both of whom hardly take any interest in the matter beyond lending their good names.

Mathai himself, of course, is the managing trustee. And he has never made any bones about his hold on the Trust. Its office is at 2, Willingdon Crescent, the residence of the Rajkumari. This is the one and only family trust that a Govern-ment servant has been permitted to set up. Mathai, a Government employee, has managed to get the permission from the Home Ministry to open this Trust and collect money for it.

A surprising feature is that Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, when she was a Union Cabinet Minister, was permitted to become one of the trustees, while at about the same time, in the year 1954, two other Ministers, Sri Jagjivan Ram and Sri Satyanarain Sinha, were asked by the Prime Minister to resign from the trusteeship of the Dalmia Bhriguraj and Yogiraj Trust.

What is more amazing about it is the fact that this Trust today has assets totalling nearly Rs 24 lakhs. Among the donors are the Birlas, Shanti Prasad Jain and several Bombay businessmen. The account of the Trust is kept in the Birlas’ United Commercial Bank, but it is a closed account.

It may be by some myserious influence that over Rs 20 lakhs can be collected in memory of a completely unknown lady when one recollects that in spite of the Prime Minister’s appeal, not more than Rs nine and a half lakhs could be collected for the Kidwai Memorial Fund.

A prominent Congressman told me: “I won’t be surprised if Mundhra also has donated to this Trust.” There are grounds for such talks. Because, it is reported that the first meeting between TTK and Mundhra in the summer of 1957 had taken place at Mathai’s initiative. So far as I know, even the Vivian Bose Committee could not probe into this secret. Throughout his career as Minister, TTK is said to have kept the closest contact with Mathai.

Mathai’s association with the Birlas had, it seems, started even before the Trust was set up. Some years ago, Mathai bought an orchard in the Kulu Valley. Later he sold it to the Birlas at about one and a half lakh rupees, though, according to many, the property itself can hardly be valued at even half the amount.

Again, just six months ago, the Birlas made a gift of one of their New Delhi properties for a song to Mathai.

At Number 9, Tees January Marg, the Birlas—more precisely the Birla Cotton, Spining and Weaving Mills Ltd., Delhi (Managing Agents: Birla Bros. Pvt Ltd.)—had a house with extensive grounds covering 7,254 square yards, which comes to about one-and-a-half acres. This property is in the neighbourhood of the Birla House, where Gandhiji was assassinated. Anybody having any knowledge of New Delhi’s lay-out will readily concede that the market value of this property would be anywhere around Rs ten lakhs. The Government itself has recently fixed the price of land in New Delhi at Rs 100 per square yard. So the land alone can fetch over Rs seven-and-a-quarter lakhs to say nothing of the building.

But how much did Mathai’s Trust have to pay for it? In a letter dated Augst 22, 1958, the Birla Cotton Spining and Weaving Mills Ltd. officially informed the present tenant: “Thus you will find that for acquiring this house the Trust had to spend approximately Rs 75,000.” No doubt, it was a gift from the Birlas!

Another interesting thing about Mathai is that he has taken out a life insurance policy which will start providing him with about Rs one thousand per month in another five or six years for the rest of his life-time.

I am told that this policy was taken out by him only a few years ago—which means that he must have been paying a very heavy premium. Persons drawing the same salary as Mathai can hardly go in for policies with such a heavy premium.

With such strong and well-laid-out contacts with Big Money, for a person to continue at a strategic post having access to the highest confidence of the nation is highly dangerous to the interests of the nation.

The Prime Minister talked of sweeping the private sector with a broom-stick if it comes in the way of the nation’s interest. Will it be too much to expect him to cleanse his surroundings?

(IPA, January 3, 1959)

The following are some editorials, commentaries and N.C.’s articles published in Mainstream over the years.

Indo-Pakistan Relations: New Perspective

Military aid has suddenly become the main topic of political discussion in New Delhi, almost downgrading Sheikh Abdullah’s olive-branch mission to Pakistan and Sri Nehru’s repeat offer to Peking to open negotiations.

This is somewhat natural in view of Sri Chavan’s mission to Washington. But even a few weeks back, the Defence Minister’s US trip was regarded in the Capital as of secondary importance to Sri T.T. Krishnamachari’s multi-purpose approaches to America. It was also made clear from Washington recently when the Rao mission had just reached there, that no supersonic F-104 planes would be available for India. We were even offered the wise advice gratis that we should cut our arms coat according to our dollar cloth. A feeling of helpless frustration was about to creep in.

But this demoralisation was short-lived. Hard on the heels of the announcement of the Soviet offer of aid for Bokaro and the thousand-kilowatt transmitter, has come the disclosure of large-scale defence aid from Moscow. Alongwith the early delivery of 60 supersonic MIG-21s, the project for their manufacture in this country itself will be speeded up. What is perhaps more important is the offer of ground-to-air missiles and two ordnance factories, apart from helicopters and transport planes.

Although the Soviet supply of such top-priority defence aid had been known to informed quarters for quite sometime, it was purposely withheld even during the Defence debate in Parliament for important considerations: New Delhi was interested in seeing how far Washington would go on her own in helping India with large-scale arms aid, overruling Pakistani protests, while Moscow too was not prepared to announce such a defence aid programme to India so long as there was the least chance of a thaw in its cold war with Peking.

On either count a firm appraisal seems to have been reached. Alongwith Washington’s polite refusal to supply India with F-104s, the experience of the latest round of back-stair Western lobbying in the Security Council has almost made it clear to New Delhi that there is no immediate prospect of the West withdrawing its generous patronage from Pakistan in her bellicose posture on Kashmir. The fact that the Western powers ignored Indian objection to Secretary General U Thant’s good office being dragged into the picture has hardly pleased New Delhi. Matters were made worse in the closed-door informal sessions, in which the Western powers together with their underlings like the Ivory Coast and Morocco took a more threatening pose insisting on U Thant’s mediation, to placate Pakistan.

The significance of the publicising of Soviet arms aid, according to observers in the Capital, is that Moscow’s antipathy to Peking’s pre-occupations has reached the point of no return. The Chinese charge-sheet against Mr Khrush-chev that he is backing India against China—in diplomacy, propaganda, and in military aid—is no longer going to deter the Soviet Union from coming out strongly in support of India. Together with the Soviet Premier’s current demonstration of solidarity with the UAR this new Moscow accent ensures a powerful prop for the non-aligned diplomacy as its bargaining capacity with the West goes up and to that measure helps to strengthen the independent status of these countries.

While Sri Chavan’s hands are thus streng-thened, it is suspected in some circles in the Capital that the “leak” about the Soviet arms aid—significantly made in reputed American journals close to the present Administration—was so timed as to overpower the extreme anti-India lobby in the US Congress which could be expected to react if it could be made to realise that its veto on military aid to India would only facilitate Moscow getting the upper hand in India. The Congress scuttle of the Bokaro project has not been forgotten in New Delhi.

The immediate political impact of this development is being watched in the Capital. This will no doubt enhance Sri Chavan’s standing. So far his style was cramped by TTK’s overlordship, who was also trying to pave the way for private US capital intruding into Indian defence : the way he has pulled quite a few strings in recent months to bring the Lockheeds in—and sometimes even prophesying the collapse of the MIG project—was hardly to Sri Chavan’s liking.

Together with Bokaro, this coming in of Soviet aid for defence in a big way is likely to deflate the image of TTK—which, incidentally, is largely the handiwork of himself and his ICS entourage—as the saviour who alone can bring from abroad the much-needed foreign aid, economic and defence. It has been noticed here that already the news has been given out that Sri Chavan will soon be heading a Defence mission to Moscow. In the delicate balance of forces that exists in New Delhi today, this unexpected build-up of Sri Chavan may have significant repercussions on the Centre’s political alignaments.

With this prospect of large-scale Defence aid, New Delhi will have to inevitably go in for proper planning of our entire Defence network. The question which is being posed now is: against whom have we to defend ourselves? In the context of the closer rapprochement between Rawalpindi and Peking, the answer is not difficult to find. The Defence planning has to be for the entire border that faces both China and Pakistan.

If this is the perspective that New Delhi holds before itself today, what is the meaning of the Prime Minister’s friendly approach to Pakistan?

Observers have taken note of a number of significant developments towards the evolution of what might seem to be a new approach to Pakistan. First came the Prime Minister’s declaration in Parliament that for the purpose of a settlement with Pakistan, even constitutional changes should not be ruled out. Then came his conspicuously friendly handling of Sheikh Abdullah and finally his pronouncement at the Bombay AICC, coming out in open support of the Sheikh’s mission to bring about Indo-Pak amity. At the same time, Sri Chagla in the Security Council laid special emphasis on mutual talks to the exclusion of third party intervention.

In circles critical of Pakistan, both from the Right and the Left, these constitute an ominous pointer towards a policy of appeasement. A closer examination of these important moves do not bear out any likelihood of a capitulation on the basic issues involved. Rather they point to a very important reappraisal of Indo-Pak relations.

It appears that the recent spate of communal violence has given rise to a serious apprehension that an ultra-communal leadership might dominate this country after Nehru, jeopardising democracy.

With this disturbing background, the Prime Minister seems to be in a mood to support any initiative which can help to restore sanity and goodwill between the two neighbouring countries. It was in this context that he has practically underwritten Sheikh Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan in search of a solution to this vexed question rather than for a constitutional formula with regard to Kashmir.

On the approach to Pakistan there seem to be two distinct schools in the Capital. According to one, if Pakistan could be mollified by settling the Kashmir issue, there should be no objection to making major concessions in the interest of long-term amity between the two countries. Sri Rajagopalachari and the Swatantra Right belong to this school.

The other school firmly believes that the entire basis of Pakistan rests on stirring up hatred against India, and it is this negative foundation of Mr Jinnah’s two-nation edifice which will be a perpetual source of irritation and acrimony for India. While agreeing with the second school insofar as the origin of Pakistan is concerned, the Prime Minister as an epilogue to his eventful life, seems to feel that if by friendly overtures, suspicion could be dispelled even to a small measure inside Pakistan, the game would be worth the candle.

Behind this move, there is also a groping for what may be called strong support for Indo-Pak goodwill inside Pakistan itself. With the developments in East Pakistan, a section of opinion in this country, particularly among the more enlightened section in West Bengal, has started rethinking on how to undo the bane of the Partition. Some are even urging for a positive policy in anticipation of the likelihood of East Pakistan seceding as an independent state.

While responsible opinion in New Delhi considers these as slightly premature, there is a definite exploring here for working up a solid body of friendly opinion inside Pakistan. It is this point which Sheikh Abdullah also hinted at his New Delhi utterances when he expressed his anxiety to create a ‘base’ inside Pakistan.

So far as the Sheikh is concerned, he is reported to be naturally toying with a number of suggestions for the solution to the Kashmir tangle. One of these is rather interesting: the creation of a de-militarised Kashmir to be guaranteed by both India and Pakistan. Some of his friends say that such a de-militarised Kashmir may be retained formally inside the Indian Union but with large-scale facilities for Pakistanis in the matter of trade and free access of the Valley.

But it is not yet clear whether Sheikh Sahib will raise all these suggestions during his first round of talks in Pakistan. More likely, he will go in for probing the attitude of the present ruling junta in Pakistan. While observers in New Delhi are very cautious about anticipating the reception that the Sheikh is likely to get from President Ayub, the general feeling here is that Pakistani rulers will not entertain any basic change from their stand which is annexation of Kashmir through the façade of a plebiscite. In such a situation, Sheikh Abdullah’s olive branch may wither away in the scorching summer of West Pakistan; and at that stage he will take a more realistic view about the future of Kashmir as part of the Indian Union.

There is also the possibility that his visit in the Pak-occupied “Azad” Kashmir area, if it is permitted by Rawalpindi, will show him the contrast in its conditions with those prevailing on this side.

There are also indications that inside Sheikh Abdullah’s camp three different trends are
pulling in different directions. One is the frankly pro-Pakistan wing; the second one wants an independent Kashmir; and the third, which seems to be of a considerable size, is for Kashmir remaining inside the Indian Union but with the restoration of the internal status quo as it was in 1953. If Sheikh Abullah comes back empty-handed from Pakistan, it is more than likely that the pro-independence trend will merge into the pro-India group, while the ranks of the pro-Pakistanis will be heavily depleted.

Meanwhile, the Sadiq Ministry seems to be confidently on the saddle, and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s fulminations about bringing it down are totally baseless. The latest position, according to reliable authority, is that Bakshi does not command the support of more than a dozen MLAs inside the Legislative Party, while the National Conference itself has totally cracked up in the Kashmir Valley.

The prospect of stability returning in the beautiful but storm-tossed Valley seems to be not gloomy at all.

(N.C.’s ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in issue of May 23, 1964)

India-China: Reflections on 1962

This week, thirty years ago, the Chinese Army had mounted a full-scale military attack along the entire length of our northern border. For three years previous to that there were occasional clashes, accompanied by angry polemics and tension over border claims.

What happened on October 20 was entirely different in character. It was a massive aggression into territories beyond the lines claimed as the border by the Chinese themselves. In other words, what the Chinese achieved on the ground by the sudden military offensive was to grab fresh territories beyond what they were putting up as their claim-line during the protracted negotiations.

Looking back after a lapse of thirty long years—the span of a generation—many points of reappraisal come up while the old tensions subside. It is customary in any active foreign-policy establishment to undertake a thorough review of the past so that one could be better equipped to deal with the present and to chalk out the future. It is high time that our Foreign Office and other specialised bodies undertook such a review. In the absence of any compre-hensive reappraisal, one has to fall back upon certain impressions and insights picked up as a reporter of those troubled times.

The Chinese attack not only pushed back our line of defence, but dealt a body blow on Jawaharlal Nehru’s authority at home and standing abroad. As one watched the mounting tension in the space between Dalai Lama’s arrival in India in April 1959 and the fullscale Chinese attack in October 1962, one could discern how Nehru found himself unable to get a grasp over the situation. His message over the radio at that time reflected his shock at the unprovoked military offensive by a neighbouring power whom he had trusted more than anybody else.

The political collapse of Nehru was evident when he wrote the letters to the US President asking pathetically for arms supply (November 19, 1962). Although subsequently he tried to rally by appealing for the five-nation non-aligned initiative, it was clear that he would be hardly able to recover, physically, mentally and politically. In a sense, the Chinese aggression came as a god-send for all those who had been denouncing the non-aligned stand of India. It was no accident that within a few weeks the Anglo-American initiative came for the virtual partitioning of Kashmir. It was Sardar Swaran Singh’s tireless stonewalling that warded off the Duncan Sandys mission.

Where did we go wrong, diplomatically and militarily? For one thing, while Nehru had a remarkable vision of independence from the clutches of the big power military alliances, one could not help feeling that in the euphoria over the success of the Bandung Conference where he had actually chaperoned Zhou Enlai around, he missed assessing in time the Chinese approach to world affairs which is throughout guided by the imperatives of power politics; in other words, by the principle of balance of power.

China’s concern has always been Tibet, and in the prevailing uncertainty, it wanted to show off its military prowess as a decisive element in foreign policy. That was how during the official level talks on the border claims in 1960, while the Indian side argued with legal acumen, the Chinese were working out the military strategy of piercing the frontier.

Consequently, the disarray of the Indian Army in the NEFA sector was due to the fact that our troops were totally ill-clad for the high altitude operation, while there was mismanagment in the conduct of the war.

This is now disclosed in great detail in Major General Palit’s latest volume—a work of seminal dimension—in which one gets a glimpse of the shocking mismanagement at the top, in which the serious business of conducting a war was totally missing; instead there comes total disre-gard of all norms of administrative functioning, in which personal ego played no insignificant part. The bravado of General Kaul, based on the gasbag’s megalomania, stands out as a fearsome reminder of upreparedness and the absence of any well-thought-out strategy of dealing with a full-scale military offensive. It was a dismal picture.

While Krishna Menon’s role as an outstanding diplomat will long be remembered, his stint as the Defence Minister was marred by his petty subjective interference in professional military matters. It was really a tragic case, because one has to take into account his signal contribution towards the setting up of an indigenous defence system which reinforced our independence in world affairs.

An aspect of the Chinese aggression of 1962 is generally missed, and that is its linkage with the domestic politics of China at that time. The Chinese themselves have brought out the extensive damage wrought by their own aggressive sectarianism of the sixties. Obviously, such an over-heated political line at home had had its inescapable repercussions on the foreign policy outlook. The Cultural Revolution had been preceded by successive waves of aggressive sectarianism, beginning with the back-to-the-village campaign, followed by the rectification campaign—all leading towards the disastrous Cultural Revolution. If one tries to integrate this domestic scene with China’s angry foreign policy posture, then the picture would be clearer why China took a hostile stand towards not only India but other friendly countries as well. If our understanding of the Chinese foreign policy of those years had been placed in the context of that country’s domestic policy, then perhaps the damage could have been minimised and the debacle averted in 1962.

In the three decades since those heady days, China has chastened and Indira Gandhi’s initiative in restoring ambassadorial level diplomatic relations has paid good dividends. There was a period of stalemate and the talks were reduced to rituals particularly on the thorny issue of the border dispute. There was a glimmer of a breakthrough when Rajiv Gandhi visited China and Deng Xiaoping received him in 1988. While the ghastly events at Tiananmen Square put the clock back, there has been an appreciable recovery in the last two years.

In this context, it is important to note the present Chinese approach to the border dispute. At present, the entire Chinese emphasis is on confidence-building measures (CBMs) along the present line of control. Border trade is to be reopened, the intelligence network between the opposite border security establishments would be upgraded and all this may help to reduce the forces posted now on both sides of the frontier. While the Chinese have not turned down the proposal for the resumption of talks for the examination of the boundary claims, their entire emphasis is now on the confidence-building measures along the present line of control. Obviously, the Chinese perspective is that after a few years, with the establishment of stability and tranquillity along the border, the clamour for redrawing the border line as per respective claims would be fairly weakened, if not given up altogether.

On a wider scale, at the global level the Chinese maintain a caste-system approach. As a member of the club of great powers—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—they count themselves as one of the Big Powers of today with its own nuclear arsenal. At the same time, China is serious about maintaining close and friendly relations with India on the basis of recognising India as the leading regional power in South Asia. In other words, India in the Chinese eye does not belong to the top drawer but as the predominant regional power.

No doubt there is need for improving our relations with China. But this need can hardly be realised without taking into account the Chinese perception of themselves as being in the top category, while India will have to contend with being acknowledged as a regional power.

(Mainstream, October 24, 1992)

Ayodhya and Hindu-Muslim Unity

With December 6 only a month behind, it is too early to assess its long range fall-out. After the instant outburst of violence in different parts of the country, one could however gather reactions from different walks of life.

A dominant feeling among a fairly large section of what may be called the intellectual community that regards itself liberated from the shackles of religious obscurantism, an overwhelming feeling of gloom, of dark despair, that the basic values that they so long cherished, have all crashed. They view the Babri Masjid demolition as a hideous demonstration of fanaticism, and some go further and regard it as the onset of fascism. Talking to a good cross-section of them, one gets the creeping premonition that what happened on December 6 might turn out to be the beginning of the disintegration of the country—religious communal fanaticism leading to actual break-up of the country’s territorial unity. If such a well-knit authoritarian system as the Soviet Union was, could break up and disappear without even a whimper, what guarantee is there about India not going the Yugoslav way when we could demonstrate such gross insensitivity about each other’s feelings and concerns?

The structure of thinking of this elite among the intelligentsia is dominantly based on modern Western education and culture which admits of no communal urges and outlook. Even if a good number of them acquiesce as they do in caste rituals and taboos, they keep away from communal responses. While they participate in social festivals of the community, they as a rule keep away from, or look down upon, any form of community activity. This is true of the intellectual elite of both the communities, Hindu and Muslim. Under the circumstances, there is hardly any space for community interaction between Hindus and Muslims at the intellectual level, barring of course honourable exceptions.

This trend of community alienation began before independence—perhaps in the late thirties as the present writer can recall from personal experience. And it was certainly reinforced by the partition and its blood-soaked aftermath, which wreaked the most grievous damage on the inter-relations between the two largest communities in this subcontinent, namely, Hindus and Muslims.

In the period immediately following independence, the major concentration of the nation’s energy and attention was focussed on economic development and the functioning of a constitutional, democratic system. Issues relating to communal diversities, caste barriers as also of the vast sprawling adivasi world were left in a state of laissez faire. The under-standing was that with economic development, communal and caste issues will, on their own, be weakened, if not obliterated; at the same time, the expectation was that the bitter alienation generated by the partition would gradually fade away as yesterday’s bad dream.

It is worth recalling that when the Mountbatten plan of partitioning the country was accepted by our national leaders, they genuinely believed—at least the top ones among them—that with independence, communal antagonism would progressively weaken and would be finally eliminated with economic development. Hence, there was calculated neglect of the task of fostering inter-communal activity, the means of knowing each other. The intellectual elite, which took such a conspicuously active interest in the freedom struggle, even to the point of actually participating in it by many of its adherents, totally neglected their respective communities, leaving these to the exposure to conservative, obscurantist elements. The fact of the matter is that though they opposed the so-called ‘two-nation theory’, they acknow-ledged in practice the principle of partition along communal lines. Since neither history nor geography permitted the wholesale transfer of either of the entire communities, what followed in practice was that the minority community of either of the two countries became largely suspect in the eyes of the majority community in both the countries.

Here was a major failure in nation-building in the decades since independence. The national leadership did not seem to realise the pernicious after-effect of partitioning the country along communal lines. Jinnah felt it in the very morrow of the partition when his mandate before the National Assembly—that in the new state of Pakistan all citzens would be equal—was totally brushed aside and he himself soon faded out of political authority quite sometime before he actually passed away. In the case of India, Gandhi, who had not only demurred with the decision to accept partition but persisted on campaigning for Hindu-Muslim unity, was shot dead less than six months of independence by a young man for whom the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity was anathema in partitioned India. Although police measures were taken at that time against fanatical elements including the RSS, the national leadership undertook no nationwide mass movement to generate the national consciousness that the two communities would have not only to live together but actively work together to build the new India as the proud inheritor of a civilisation enriched by many streams of culture, that there can be no Indian ethos based on the perceptions of one community, however strong in numbers it may be. In the fortyfive years since independence, the issue has been taken up as a ritual and not as an urgent imperative on the national agenda.

This laissez-faire approach could be seen on many issues. When the question of a common civil code was considered as a basic pillar of our democratic structure, the Muslim community was excluded from it—not because the national leadership had sought to look down upon that community, but because it was felt that the orthodox leaders of that community would know best what’s good for that community, and since the Muslim orthodox leaders like their Hindu counterparts were opposed to the idea of a civil code, the proposed legislation excluded the entire community from its purview. The national leadership confined its fight for social justice only within the precincts of the majority community to which they themselves largely belonged.

The same mentality of inverted communalism could be seen when Hindu rituals were performed on ceremonial occasions relating to official functions in which Ministers and even the Head of State also participated: there was little understanding of how such ceremonial rituals would have an impact on the minority community. On the one hand, the attitude of don’t-touch-the-Muslim community as it must not be made to feel that it was being pressurised by the majority community; and on the other, carry on even in public affairs in a manner that pleases the majority community.

Out of this strange mentality came the compulsions of election politics. In our functioning democracy, we are proud that we have been holding regular elections from Parliament to the panchayats. But the system that has come into operation has encouraged the tendency to appeal to caste and communal loyalties of the voter. As the system itself has got corroded over the years, this tendency has been strengthened; hence the emergence of communal/caste vote-banks. And as the vote-banks flourished, there has emerged a whole tribe of brokers in both the communities. As brokers they have a stake in keeping the community under their keep apart from any endeavour at forging a national approach as distinct from the communal or caste approach.

Since no ideological imperative for Hindu-Muslim unity has been built up after the demise of Gandhi, it is but natural that the communities by and large would come under the spell of religious leaders addressing their respective flocks. But the religious leaders are on thier own unconcerned with political activity. And here the political operators flourished in communal garb, claiming themselves as the custodians of communal interests. They have grown as political brokers in the two communities, managing their portfolio accounts in the vote-banks. What happened on December 6 at Ayodhya was like the bursting of a scam in the political stock exchange. But it does not follow the brokers are all exposed. The brokers in the minority community are equally active as their counterparts in the majority community.

In the unfolding of this sordid drama, the intellectual elite, without having built a foothold in his own community, finds himself in a state of helplessness. His cry for secularism, for fight against fascism are no doubt well-meaning and they do have some effect, but that could only be a marginal effect—a sort of salvation army squad in the face of an earthquake disaster. But marginal relief is also welcome.

What’s, however, called for is to bestir those noble souls who have roots in their respective communities. They have to come out of their cloistered eminence and lead their flocks for Hindu-Muslim unity—which alone can provide the bedrock for India’s regenerated nationalism.

(Mainstream, January 9, 1993)

Bijbehara: A Challenge to Nation’s Conscience

Autumn has set in—the chinar in its gorgeous robe. But it is an autumn of bitter sorrow for the hapless people of Kashmir. The Valley which was known as the paradise on earth has been turned into a trough of hatred, of blood and tears.

On Friday last week the portals of Hazratbal were barred as the Indian Army had laid siege of the mosque complex in pursuit of the militants. To protest against this siege of the holy of holies for every Kashmiri Muslim, the common folk in the small town of Bijbehara took out a demons-tration which was angry in its mood but indulged in no acts of violence. But the defiance of the curfew by the marchers enraged the BSF which went berserk and mowed down to death more than 50 and wounded another hundred or more.

These were no armed secessionists, but unarmed citizens. The authorities promptly barred mediapersons from getting into the town—some were beaten up and their cameras seized—but one intrepid among them, who could manage to sneak in, has reported that the dead were young boys, including a Hindu boy. The searing poignancy of this act of barbarism was brought out by his reporting that “not even a single family has remained unaffected by Friday’s violence” and when the bodies arrived after post-mortem, “the wails of womenfolk reached a crescendo” as these were lowered into graves.

This way, mourning turns into anger and unwillingly, the security forces instead of quelling the secessionists seem to unwittingly help to swell the ranks of the adherents, supporters and fellow-travellers of the secession-ists in the Kashmir Valley. A thousand cordons along the border shall not help to avert the catastrophe as the mounting anger against the armed might of India antagonises the people of the Kashmir Valley.

Six months ago, a very senior office-holder under the government with wide experience of administration was explaining to the present writer that while Nagaland in the sixties had lapsed into insurgency, he would not say the same thing about Kashmir as, according to him, the people in the villages were not offering active support to the militants. After the siege of Hazratbal and its fall-out with such a bloody shooting spree at Bijbehara, are not the security forces helping to breed a state of insurgency?

The government has announced a grant of one lakh rupees for the family of the slain and has instituted a magisterial enquiry into the shooting. Do the government high-ups feel that such rituals would mollify the people at Bijbehara and the Kashmir Valley? What a world of make-believe are our authorities living in! Even in normal conditions, a police firing in any part of the country raises the demand for judicial enquiry. And here after the massacre—a massacre indeed!—at Bijbehara there would only be a magisterial enquiry! The BSF version was that a mob attack on the police station led to the shooting, but the SHO himself denied any such mob attack. Kashmir’s Divisional Commi-ssioner visiting the town next day observed: “There was no witness to confirm firing on the BSF at Bijbehara.” And with all this, the government is fighting shy of commissioning a judicial enquiry into the gory incident.

No, this is not a matter for quibbling over enquiries, magisterial or judicial. Bijbehara has thrown up a challenge to the conscience of the entire nation. It has brought out that in the name of fighting out secessionist militants, those responsible for the governance of this great country are themselves hitting at the very foundations of our democratic republic. Such acts of folly, leading to insensate violence on the part of those entrusted to govern, do not evoke respect and consent but provoke revulsion and angry insubordination. A republic does not last by enforced submission of its people at gun-point. It has just the reverse effect.

Against this ghastly brutality perpetrated at Bijbehara, it’s time for our political leaders to hang down their heads in shame and remorse. For they share, in diverse measure, the guilt for letting things drift into this shocking state of affairs that security forces should be so dehumanised as to run amuck committing such a crime. And is Bijbehara a solitary case of security forces transgressing into barbarity by the strength of the gun? All these four years, the government told the public that the militants provoked violence and the security forces had to bear the burnt of it. So much so that our government resorted to an ingenious argument that sought to put the security forces on a par with the aggrieved citizens in the matter of many violations of human rights in Kashmir. It’s time that the true state of affairs in Kashmir were brought out in the sun and let the nation judge for itself whether the Republic is reinforced or undermined with the way our government is dealing with the people of Kashmir.

Every democrat in this great democracy of ours has to stand by the people in Bijbehara at this moment of sorrow and despair. And our leaders from Kashmir, where are they, what are they doing? Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who became the Home Minister of India, is a native son of Bijbehara. Its lane and by-lanes, its street-corners and maidans have witnessed Mufti Sahib growing up in the politics of Kashmir. He could not possibly be sleeping in peace, tormented as he must be—at least, should be—by the trauma of his fellow-citizens at Bijbehara. Why don’t you go there, Mufti Sahib, at this hour of agony and bring strength to their spirits? And if you stand by them, you will add strength to your own arms and help this Republic of ours. This is the way the sinew of a nation’s morale is built, which no amount of politicking from a distance will do.

In our midst, in virtual exile of political isolation, there is Syed Mir Qasim, whose maturity and experience the Prime Minister could have harnessed with profit if he so desired. Isn’t it time for Qasim Sahib to go on his own to his native soil, facing all the hazards thereby? When people are in a state of emotional shock, they look upto their leaders to come and stand by them. Such a moment has come for all our Kashmir leaders. If they miss to respond in these testing times, they will become castaways of history. Forgetting petty squabbles and irritations, if they all join hands and put their heads together, there must come a way out of the tragic impasse into which this picturesque corner of our great subcontinent has been forced into. More than at any time in the past, the people of Kashmir today cry for the healing touch and that alone can bring back peace and harmony. And if we succeed in the Valley, it will bring back amity with our neighbour, Pakistan.

Guns on either side do not solve crises. What’s needed today is the courage to call for peace—the courage that made Gandhi into the Mahatma.

(Mainstream, October 30, 1993)

We Need No Taliban Here

Maqbool Fida Husain is at the very centre of a storm whose after-effects are extremely relevant for our democracy—both for the democratic structure of our state and for the preservation of democratic values in our society.

It is not that Husain is at the centre of a controversy for the first time; in fact, it is seldom he is out of one. He has got thousands of fans, not all because of the beauty of his art but quite a large number applauding him for what would have been called idiosyncracies in the case of mere mortals. Publicity he likes, perhaps craves for, and publicity of one kind or another can certainly be good business in these days of market-worship. As is but natural in the case of any celebrity, there are always admirers and traducers, fans and jealous rivals for Husain. Sometimes, he has evoked adverse responses even among his admirers as when he put up his huge painting depicting Indira Gandhi as a Durga at the height of the Emergency. Though this fetched him a lot of kudos from the then establishment, it was taken as being in bad taste by many of his fans at that time.

Like many other artists, Husain sometimes seems to be seeking the limelight by being provocative. The present writer is no art critic, but he has sometimes felt that some of Husain’s creations need not be so aggressive as to provoke protests and misunderstandings. Would his art or his power of depiction suffer if some of his images are not so downright? Is it necessary at all that Draupadi should be bereft of all clothes, which even the filthy villain at the famous gambling over chess could not achieve?

This is no doubt trading on a minefield, a dangerous ground as it brings into focus the question perennially controversial—the length of the artist’s freedom of expression. Like all freedoms, this has its limitations, and carries alongwith it the responsibility of the artist to society to which he or she may belong. And if the artist flouts that responsibility, who is to enforce it upon him?

The raging controversy of today about Husain’s paintings started precisely on this point. Some of the angry missionaries of faith, out to cleanse the world of all its dross and dregs, raised a hue and cry of some of Husain’s paintings depicting well-known figures of Hindu mythology in scanty garments resembling birthday suits. They have warned Husain for having hurt the sentiments of the Hindu devotees. They have even gone to court to seek an injunction against the artist.

It is not difficult to anticipate the chain of argument of these angry upholders of the Hindu faith. Since Islam does not permit even an imaginary portrait of the Prophet, why should anybody, particularly a Muslim, be permitted to depict the immortals of the Hindu pantheon in a manner suggestive of being indecent, if not promiscuous? If the Prophet’s portrayal is banned, so must be the portrayal of the gods and goddesses whom the Hindus worship. Sounds reasonable and this may be the gist of the accusation against Husain when the case comes up before the Bombay courts.

But the flaw in this argument lies in the fact that the mythology of the Hindus has never presented the gods and immortals as dry totems: they reflect, by and large, the life and living of a human being projected on a supernatural canvas. By no means do they appear as shrivelled-up, bone-dry. Rather they appear almost like robust human beings with supernatural powers—having all the emotions, sometimes in abundance. There is nothing Calvinistic in its austerity in the Hindu faith. It is worth recalling that in the wake of the reform movement in Indian society in the nineteenth century, a section of the Hindu fold was expelled from it, as it refused to agree to what they called the idol-worship. This section, the Brahmo Samaj and its smaller counterparts, was austere in its outlook, and, according to it, God in any manifestation must not be idolised as mere mortals with all their emotions and urges.

Needless to add, it is the broad sweep of the Hindu faith which helped to promote rich classics in history and poetry, performing and fine arts—many works out of them which may be frowned upon by rigid standards of moral sermonising. It is in a such a background that one has to comprehend the full implications of the sudden attack on Husain’s works by self-styled defenders of Hindu faith. It would be absurd to think that the hollow pretences of such bigotry can mislead the true devotees of the religion. Nevertheless, Husain has done the correct thing in promptly issuing a statement that he did not want to hurt anybody’s feelings by his paintings, and he was sorry about it all.

This, of course, has not satisfied the fanatics, who are out to make political capital out of it. The artist with his message has not been spared by the aggressive fanatics. One of the groups, the Bajrang Dal, attacked a well-known art gallery in Ahmedabad and tore out Husain’s paintings and made a bonfire of them. This shocking example of vandalism has evoked widespread condemnation from a large body of intellectuals while artists at a number of places have come out to demonstrate their resentment against this piece of intolerance and vandalism. Undaunted, the President of the Mumbai branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has now come with a new offer for truce with Husain. He wants Husain himself to destroy the paintings to which the VHP and its fellow-travelling crusaders have objected, as a Dussehra reconciliation. Obviously, this move has clear communal overtones: A Muslim artist cannot be permitted to depict Hindu gods and goddesses as he likes. Ironically, these fanatics want our people to forget that most of the religious festivals in our country cut across the communal divide. The best of the idol-makers for Dussehra in Calcutta, for instance, are Muslim potters for generations.

After all the vandalism committed, this spate of threats makes it abundantly clear that the fanatic fringe which has arrogated to itself the role of the upholder of morals as per its own book would pursue the persecution of all those who are their target. Today the target is Husain. Tomorrow it may be an author or a dancer. And let us not forget, it is the same mentality of blatant fanaticism that had fired the bullet that killed Gandhi. In the year earmarked for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of our achieving independence, it is an ominous sign that this country has within its fold such fanatics that would not hesitate to destroy our hard-earned democracy.

We need no Taliban of whatever denomi-nation—neither in our parlour nor in our basement.

(Mainstream, October 26, 1996)

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